Arizona Diamondbacks: Though Arizona’s fast start has been dismissed in some quarters, there are several underlying stories that are getting lost amid the Pythangenport reassessments of the NL West:

  • Tony Clark — If you look up the Diamondbacks in the team VORP report, you see some familiar names at the top of the list–old reliable Luis Gonzalez (23.5), stalwart Troy Glaus (20.2). But right next to them, with half the plate appearances of either, is Tony Clark. Clark is hitting .355/.392/.702 with 10 home runs and a 20.2 VORP. Clark is second in the majors in RBIs per runner (100 PA and over), cashing in roughly a quarter of the baserunners put on before him. Jealous Yankee fans wonder if this could really be the same Tony Clark who was the 2004 ALCS Least Valuable Player. Perhaps Phoenix holds the Pinstriped Fountain of Youth, since it also seems to agree with former Yankee Javier Vazquez (6-4 4.39 ERA, 13.7 VORP).
  • Lance Cormier — Apparently, no relation to Phillies reliever Rheal Cormier. Cormier’s third in the majors in our reliever win expectation metric, WXRL (2.209), behind Jesse Crain (2.490) and Chad Cordero (2.825), and ninth in Adjusted Runs Prevented. His peripherals have never impressed us too much, but his overall minor league record (3.55 ERA in 302 IP) is pretty solid.
  • Stephen Drew — While Drew’s holdout was a loss to D-backs fans, was it necessarily a bad thing for the franchise? One of the remaining mysteries of sabermetrics is that there is no objective way of knowing the effect of Drew’s holdout on his development as a player. Stephen’s brother, J.D. Drew, had a similar delay to his professional career, and seemed to develop slowly, posting WARPs of 2.8, 4.1, 6.9, 3.5, 3.4, and 10.1 over his age 23-28 seasons.

    Still, J.D. Drew might not be a good indicator, because his progress
    seemed to be delayed more by injury than by any other factor. There’s
    no proof that J.D.’s frailty is a family trait. The core of the question is to what extent the expected development pattern and prime for a professional ballplayer is a matter of physical maturity as opposed to the quantity and quality of instruction and competition to which he is exposed.

    If there isn’t a long-term negative effect to Drew taking a year off from organized competition-and that’s a huge “if”-then the Diamondbacks may come out ahead on this holdout, gaining a year of maturity-a year closer to Drew’s prime-without losing a year in which they hold his exclusive rights. As indicated by Rany Jazayerli’s excellent work on the draft there can be a great difference in value between a drafted prospect who is able to perform at a high level immediately upon arrival, and one who takes time to develop-often past the point where the drafting team controls his rights.

Derek Jacques

Minnesota Twins: The Minnesota Twins seemingly have no major flaws this year, but to this point still trail the Chicago White Sox in the standings. In examining why, let’s start with their hitting. How does it compare with last year’s? The numbers, entering Wednesday:

2005           AL PMLV            2004          AL PMLV
Pos  Player    Pos Rank   PMLVr   Pos  Player   Pos Rank   PMLVr
C    Mauer            3    .249   C    Mauer           7    .407
1B   Morneau          4    .106   1B   Morneau         9    .148
2B   Punto            9    .102   2B   Rivas          22   -.023
3B   Cuddyer         14   -.026   3B   Koskie          9    .103
SS   Castrlett*      17   -.063   SS   Guzman         19   -.011
LF   Stewart          7    .069   LF   Stewart         8    .118
CF   Hunter           3    .142   CF   Hunter          6    .098
RF   Jones            3    .166   RF   Jones          23   -.034
DH   Ford             8    .079   DH   Ford            5    .012

     AVER          7.56    .092        AVERAGE     12.00    .104
* Castrlett = Juan Castro + Jason Bartlett

Using PMLV and PMLVr, we can see that while the Twins rate has declined slightly at the outset of 2005, their standing relative to the American League has improved quite a bit. This improves even further when “Castrlett” becomes just Jason Bartlett, who is the better half of that combination from the offensive side.

One of the reasons that Juan Castro is in the lineup however, is his outstanding defense, as Castro to date has a +18 FRAR. Combined with a +13 FRAR from Nick Punto (currently on the DL), a +10 FRAR from Joe Mauer, and a +12 FRAR from Torii Hunter, shows that the Twins have a very formidable defense up the middle. This is reflected in their team totals as well, as the Twins had the number one Defensive Efficiency entering Wednesday. This has come as a pleasant surprise for the Twins. In 2003 and 2004, the Twins ranked just 6th and 10th in the AL in terms of Defensive Efficiency, and that was with the expert fielding of Cristian Guzman. That they have improved so dramatically without him, with much of the same lineup, speaks to the quality of both the Twins’ coaches and pitchers.

Though at least one study shows that a pitcher who labors or works slowly doesn’t have an effect on his defense, it certainly helps if your pitchers are efficient. With a staff BB/9 rate of 1.7, the Twins pitchers are keeping the pace moving and the defense involved. This is also reflected in the Twins STRESS scores. As can be seen in our Pitcher Abuse Points by Team report, only 7 teams have no pitchers with a 10+ STRESS score, and Minnesota is one of them.

The question remains then, if the Twins have a better offense by comparison, coupled with an ultra-efficient defense and pitching staff, then why are they still in second place? Our Adjusted Standings report proves prescient, as it shows that while the Twins have earned all the wins they have, the Chicago White Sox entered Wednesday playing 7.4 wins over their head. If the White Sox actual win total should more closely align with their third order win total, the Twins will be ready to pounce.

Paul Swydan

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